It was Millwall who triumphed against Luton Town 2-0 in one of Tuesday night’s Championship affairs. A dominant display from the Lions gave them their third win of the season, with goals coming in either half thanks to a Martin Cranie own goal and a Connor Mahoney strike. This was Millwall’s second win on the bounce, after overcoming Wycombe 2-1 in their previous fixture. In contrast, this was back-to-back defeats for Nathan Jones’ Hatters, losing 2-0 on both occasions. The tactical analysis below covers the game.
Gary Rowett lined up his Millwall side in the same 4-2-3-1 formation they used against Wycombe Wanderers. Goalkeeper Bartosz Białkowski started between the sticks, behind a back four of Mahlon Romeo, Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper, and Murray Wallace. Ryan Woods and Ryan Leonard both played in central midfield, with Connor Mahoney and Jed Wallace on either wing. Matt Smith started up front in his 45th appearance for the Lions, with Mason Bennett sitting just behind.
In their fixtures so far, Luton have opted to use a 4-1-4-1 formation, which aided in their win against Wycombe before the international break. It was once again selected on Tuesday night, but ultimately the result was a different outcome. Simon Sluga started in goal for Jones’ side, with Martin Cranie, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley, and Rhys Norrington-Davies, on loan from EPL side Sheffield United, in front of him. Irishman Glen Rea played in holding midfield, with Luke Berry and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu compiling the rest of central midfield. Left winger Kazenga LuaLua started his first league game of the season, with Jordan Clark on the other flank. Striker Danny Hylton was selected ahead of James Collins, who had tested positive for coronavirus.
Millwall going forwards
Having the aerial presence of Matt Smith in their side, Millwall often put crosses into the box for the 6’5” forward to latch onto. The striker is yet to score this season, but, during last campaign, he tallied up 13 goals in total with seven coming from headed efforts.
Above we see an example of the tactics Rowett used when instructing how balls are put into the box. Wallace is positioned relatively deep for a winger, and crosses early into the space behind the Luton backline. Smith plays off the defender’s shoulder and drives into the area, in an attempt to head the ball towards goal. In the chance shown, Wallace’s cross is too close to Sluga and the goalkeeper collects the ball.
When attacking down either wing, Millwall’s full-backs would overlap and provide extra forward options. Here, we see left-back Murray Wallace sprint past Mahoney, providing the winger with an option to offload to if he feels Luton can block the cross. In this instance, Matt Smith is once again the target in the box, but the Englishman can only meet the woodwork with his header.
Millwall in transition
When looking to attack, Millwall would often play through their wingers and full-backs to get the ball forwards. If these options were not on, then long passes towards Matt Smith would be chosen. As stated previously, he is dominant in the air, and has the ability to shield the ball while teammates come to support around him.
Here we see an example of this wing play, with right-back Romeo finding Jed Wallace, who has come centrally to receive the ball. The two create a simple but effective passing sequence to work play around the Luton midfielder, and Wallace can then drive into the final third.
If Millwall ever had to track back and prevent Luton counter-attacking, then the respective full-back and winger would press the opposition. Above, we see Murray Wallace and Mahoney bear down on Luton’s right winger, with support from midfielder Woods. Doing this ensures the space the opposition has is compacted. Notice how Millwall centre-back Hutchinson has chosen to step forwards out of defence, filling the gap in midfield to prevent any balls from being played into that space.
Millwall when defending
When preventing Luton’s advances down the pitch, Millwall narrowed their midfield to reduce the space that attackers would run into. This prevented passes from being made in between the midfield and defensive lines.
Here, we see how compact Millwall’s four midfielders were in the second half. Right winger Jed Wallace is narrow enough that he’s in the centre circle, with opposite full-back Scott Malone pressing the man on the ball. Notice Hutchinson is again pushed forwards to fill the gap in between the midfield and defence, ready to press Elliott Lee if he receives a pass.
Using their midfielders, the Lions would press Luton players towards the touchline where their full-backs could then attempt to win the ball. Analysis of the stats shows that these tactics worked, with Jones’ side only having one shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.
Above we see Ryan Leonard show right-back Cranie towards the right channel, where he has to release the ball to not get tackled. As the pass is made, Millwall left-back Wallace instantly presses the receiver, reducing the time he has to make a decision. Doing this ensures Luton are not able to get into the box with the ball, preventing dangerous openings from being created.
Luton in possession
Using the 4-1-4-1 formation, Luton often used their midfield three to try and create effective passing triangles when advancing up the pitch. However, Millwall were able to effectively shut some of these down, so the Hatters would opt to play long balls towards striker Danny Hylton.
Here, we see midfielder Luke Berry link up with Clark and Rea to collect the ball on the right side of the pitch. Jordan Clark’s run to receive the ball at feet creates a gap on the right wing, and so Berry rotates wide from his central position to exploit the now open space. As Millwall pressed with high intensity when defending, this was an effective way to counteract their tactics.
Luton in transition
When they lost the ball in the midfield third, the Luton Town players pressed their opposition towards one side of the pitch. This suffocated Millwall in some instances, forcing them to either squander possession or play backwards to their defence.
Here we see four Luton players within one small area of the pitch, including three of their four defenders and winger LuaLua. Doing this ensured Millwall had very few options when trying to play out of these zones, which was crucial as the Lions focused the majority of their attacks on the wings.
When they won possession, Luton struggled to advance through their midfield, with neither of their centre midfielders making a dribble past the opposition. The analysis shows Luke Berry had an especially torrid time in the middle of the park, only completing 68% of his passes throughout his time on the pitch. He was substituted after 60 minutes for new signing Joe Morrell, the midfielder managed by Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs in the Welsh national side.
Luton Town’s defensive structure
When on the back foot, Nathan Jones organised his side to defend using a flat back four against Millwall. The problem was they were often matched or outnumbered against Rowett’s side, especially within their final third.
Above, we can see one of the problematic situations Luton’s defence often found themselves in. This instance was in the 50th minute of the game when the Hatters were trailing 1-0. Due to either full-back pushing on, and with Glen Rea being the only defensively minded midfielder, Millwall are easily able to work the ball around him and create a 3v3 situation for themselves. If Rea was given support by either one of his teammates in central midfield, he would not have been outnumbered so easily, and chances such as this one could have been prevented.
In conclusion, Millwall deserved all three points against Luton in this midweek game. Even though statistics showed the Lions had less of the ball, they were still able to outshoot and outscore a disappointing Luton side. The Hatters ended the game with nearly 60% possession, completing more passes and dribbles than their EFL Championship opponents. It was proven on Tuesday night, though, that what you do with the ball matters over how much of it you have, with Millwall now climbing to fourth in the table, and Luton dropping down to tenth.